Afghan soldier kills 3 Britons
shooter remains on the loose after second such attack in eight months
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan soldier killed three British service members with gunfire and a rocket-propelled grenade in the dead of night, a betrayal that highlights the difficulties in rapidly building up Afghan security forces so that foreign troops can go home.
The soldier fled after carrying out the attack in southern Afghanistan early Tuesday, leaving his motive unclear. But the Taliban claimed that he was a militant sympathizer who was taken in by insurgents after the assault.
In London, Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the killings as “appalling” but insisted the incident shouldn’t change NATO’s strategy of working alongside the Afghan army. Four other British troops were wounded in the attack on a base in the Nahr-i-Saraj district of Helmand province that is home to members of the 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles.
It was the second time in eight months that an Afghan turned against British troops partnering with local security forces. In November, an Afghan police officer killed five British soldiers at a checkpoint in Helmand.
Tuesday’s attack is likely to further dampen public backing for the war in Britain, where support has waned as casualties have risen sharply. In recent months, British forces have endured some of the toughest fighting of the nearly nineyear war in Helmand, a huge southern province that is the country’s opium heartland. The Afghan war has taken the lives of 317 Britons.
Afghan police in the past have also attacked U.S. soldiers and even their own police stations, though such attacks are rare.
Still, Tuesday’s attack comes at a time when the international coalition is ramping up training of Af- ghan soldiers and policemen so they can ultimately take responsibility for securing and defending the nation. The speed with which Afghan security forces are growing — the allies set an interim goal of expanding the Afghan army from 85,000 in 2009 to 134,000 troops by October 2011 — has raised concerns about infiltration by the Taliban and the professionalism of the recruits.
It remained unclear how long Tuesday’s attacker had been enlisted in the Afghan National Army, whether he plotted the assault with others and what motivated him to carry out the killings — which Britain’s Ministry of Defense called a “suspected premeditated attack.”
Lt. Col. James Carr-Smith, spokesman for the coalition task force in Helmand province, said: “We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his NATO and Afghan comrades. His whereabouts are currently unknown, but we are making strenuous efforts to find him.”